With around 30 backcountry testing days, from climbing Utah ice to teaching avalanche courses and skiing in the Pacific Northwest, the Helix proved its worth as a perfect “quiver of one” waterproof/breathable shell. Polartec NeoShell’s updated membrane is more permeable than the previous version, allowing air to pull moisture away from the skin at the first sign of sweat, rather than building up moisture before it’s released (which causes that clammy feeling).
Rain Shell Reviews
Pitch one might offer t-shirt conditions, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find “sun’s out, guns out” weather on pitch four, too. “It was 80 degrees and sunny when I placed my first cam,” says one tester of a late summer climb at Colorado’s Lumpy Ridge, “and then a half hour later, I was shivering in a whipping wind.”
After two seasons of ice climbing in this jacket, one tester compared it to an electric blanket. “It’s warmer than it looks,” he said. The secret is Polartec’s Power Shield High Loft, a precipitation-resistant, wind-blocking, stretchy fabric backed by a generously fluffy gridded fleece.
The name says it all. This shell protected our testers from hail, rain, and eyelid-fluttering winds year-round in the Colorado high country. And at a whispery 11 oz., it’s stealth and compact enough to disappear into a pack and not be a weight liability.
One of the founders of Cloudveil recently launched Stio, a brand with a similar spirit (Jackson, Wyoming-based, designed for climbers and skiers—and cracking beers back in town). The Origins Hoody has become a tester favorite.
When waterproof-breathable shells venture below 10 oz., you might have to make sacrifices, like non-adjustable cuffs or hood or limited breathability. Not so with the 6.9-oz. Focus LT: Testers praised this Spartan-butuseful jacket for blocking rain but never getting clammy and called it one of the best three-season hardshells they’d worn.
Take the weather resistance of the best softshell and marry it to the breathability of an unlined fleece, and you have the Acto MX. “It’s great for high-output activities in the alpine,” said one tester after climbing the Breithorn outside of Zermatt, Switzerland, on a crisp, bluebird day.
“It’s like wearing armor,” said one tester after a two-week stint in perpetually weather-beaten south Patagonia, during which he rarely took the jacket off. “From climbing to sea kayaking to horseback riding, this jacket is perfect for the cold and wet, and it handles abrasion better than just about any other shell I’ve seen.”
Bailing off the sixth pitch of Petit Grepon (5.8) in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, in the face of a rain and hail storm, our tester put this “emergency storm jacket for an alpine environment” to the test. The Arc’teryx Alpha SL Jacket ($319; arcteryx.com) was a godsend for the two-hour downpour while the tester and her partner rapped down almost 800 feet.
The Outdoor Research Mithrilite Jacket ($199, outdoorresearch.com) presents an extremely lightweight (24 oz.) and versatile softshell with full waterproof capabilities.
The new Arc'teryx Gamma MX jacket for climbers is a definite upgrade, with its proprietary Fortius 2.0 fabric, which is blessed with enhanced durability and water resistance without any sacrifice of stretch or breathability.
Four new jackets that break the mold - The term "hybrid" doesn’t just mean space-shippy little cars that save gas. Outdoor companies have adopted the word to mean apparel that combines multiple fabrics within a single layer for comfort and smart performance. Employing what they call “body mapping,” designers examine the way certain parts of our bodies work during high- and low-output activities, in all kinds of weather, and then put waterproof shell fabric where you need waterproofing, stretch panels where you need breathability, and insulation where you need warmth, all in the same layer.